2017-05-17 / Front Page

Commerce dad stands invisibly in school lunch lines

‘Invisible Dad’ program expands throughout WLCSD

Inside cafeterias in elementary schools across the Walled Lake School District, a caped crusader stands in the lunch line. His mission? To protect students from food insecurity. He’s the Invisible Dad, and to most, his identity has been unknown…until now.

It all started two years ago when Tony Casanova was having a conversation with his daughter about her day at school. “How was school today?” He asked her, as he did every other day. However, what his daughter told him this day broke his heart.

“She said her friend didn’t sit with her because she had cheese and crackers. When you don’t have money, the school gives you cheese and crackers,” he said. “That brought back a bunch of stuff from when I was growing up. I had a single mother and there were times my lunch account would go under, and the decision had to be made whether we were going to eat a meal that night or the light bill was going to get paid.”

“It kind of sparked something,” he continued. “I started looking into statistics and realized [food insecurity] isn’t as rare as I thought. It’s something that happens to as many as one in six kids in Michigan.”

Hearing this story, Casanova immediately jumped into action. His plan? To stand invisibly in the lunch line to prevent lunch shaming. He partnered with Phil Pittman, former principal at Keith Elementary, and the Invisible Dad program was born. Through the program, Casanova donates money to the Invisible Dad account at the school so that no child goes without a nutritious meal. Funds are available without question or judgment, and parents are notified privately and confidentially if their child’s lunch is paid for by the Invisible Dad.

“Any kid that goes in and can’t have lunch, that account gets debited,” he said. “At Keith, it was three kids a day. For three kids a day, that’s $11. I can give up something.”

Parents are encouraged to donate to the program anonymously. The program, Casanova says, is established to raise awareness, not make money.

“It’s just the right thing to do, that’s what I’m trying to teach people,” he said. “I’m not a rich guy. I’m a janitor, but I made a huge impact at a school; I saw the impact. Other people can do this. We can affectively end this type of food insecurity in one whole [school] district.”

Casanova says his goal is to expand the program to all 12 elementary schools in the Walled Lake Consolidated School District by the end of this year. Since its inception two years ago, the Invisible Dad program is currently in place at eight of 12 schools in the district, including: Commerce, Keith, Walled Lake, Wixom, Loon Lake, Pleasant Lake, Glengary and Hickory Woods elementaries.

That’s not all he wants to do, though. Eventually, he would like to expand the program to all of Oakland County and make the Invisible Dad program a state, and national, model. Additionally, he wants to remove blight in the City of Detroit and fund the program in Detroit Public Schools.

“If we all take care of each other’s kids and raise them in the ‘it takes a village’ mentality, then we raise better kids,” he said. “You just extend that hand.”

Donations can be made to the Invisible Dad program by sending cash or a check to the school made out to “Walled Lake Food Services” with “Invisible Dad – Commerce” in the memo.

More information on the Invisible Dad program is available online at www.invisibledad.org.

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